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Top Five 2016 NFL Draft Prospects- Middle Linebacker
These guys will be drafted to become the future leaders of an NFL defense. Today I rank the top five middle linebacker prospects for the upcoming NFL Draft.
1. Reggie Ragland
Bio: After his junior year, Reggie Ragland decided to return to Alabama to win a National Championship and improve as a run stopper. In 2015, he led the Crimson Tide with 97 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and six passes defended while helping Alabama to a National Championship victory over Clemson.
Strengths: Old school, hard nosed middle linebacker who plays the game the way Nick Saban likes. Steps into hole and will go head first against lead blockers in order to constrict his gap. Instinctive linebacker who trusts his eyes. Showed greater understanding of angles and leverage in 2015. Won’t overcommit when rushing to ball carrier and almost always finds his run fits. Missed tackles fell from ten in 2014 to just three this season. Played with hand in ground as an edge rusher in some sub packages. Showed greater willingness to take chances downhill. Hard hitter with above average play strength.
Weaknesses: Play speed a question. Can be inconsistent with his angles when playing downhill. Could get himself in trouble miscalculating NFL speed to the perimeter. Will get locked up more often by pro linemen if he tries to take on all blocks rather than punch and shed. Alabama’s outstanding defensive front allowed him to roam unblocked for much of the year. Can handle himself in zone coverage but man cover skills are very limited.
Projected Round: 1
Possible landing spot: Chicago Bears
2. Scooby Wright III, Arizona
Bio: As a sophomore at Arizona, Phillip "Scooby" Wright III established himself as the best defender in college football winning the triple crown of national awards for a defender including the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Lombardi Award, and the Chuck Bednarik Award. That year, he registered 163 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, 14 sacks and six forced fumbles.
Strengths: Possesses elite instincts. Appears to head in direction of the play like he knows the play call. Extremely active and always on the heels of his feet and ready to hunt. Plays with an insane amount of competitive fire. Flows quickly to point of attack with downhill action and looking to disrupt. Is often able to force cutbacks to alter the running back’s designed track. Can time snaps and shoot gaps making him a dangerous blitzer. His 2014 season is widely considered the most productive tear for a linebacker in college football history. Explodes with hips into tackles and finishes with his feet. Play speed is faster than timed speed thanks to combination of instincts and burst to the ball. Shows plus lateral agility with ability to engage in, shed, or beat the blocks.
Weaknesses: Needs to learn to harness his energy and passion to improve his body control. Will end up on the ground a little too often due to high motor. Average athlete with below average straight line speed. Plays upright. Needs more bend in his waist and knees to improve his pad level and leverage, Must be a more consistent tackler. Will get run through at times due to leverage issues. Stiff change of direction creates arm tackling situations and missed tackles. Gets caught guessing sometimes and will vacate his run fit. Only played in three games in 2015 due to knee and foot injuries.
Projected Round: 2
Possible landing spot: Atlanta Falcons
3. Kentrell Brothers, Missouri
Bio: In his four years at Missouri, Kentrell Brothers proved himself to be a very effective run stopper. As a senior, he led the nation in tackles per game with 12.7 and was named a second team All-American.
Strengths: Elite vision and understanding of space. Finds the ball quickly and rarely loses track of it. Has innate sense of when to go over or under blocks and finds spaces to tackle that many linebackers can’t see. Calm and focused around line of scrimmage and is very rarely put on his back by a block. Plays with presnap idea of where ball is headed and races to the spot ahead of linemen looking to climb up and block him. Well-schooled handwork. Shoots a jarring punch into blockers and keeps himself clean to chase the ball carrier. Finished with 42 more tackles than the next linebacker in the SEC. Gap responsible and has the play strength to stand up to blockers. Great finisher as tackler. Giant hands can turn a diving arm tackle into a finish. Sniffs out play-action and immediately looks for his coverage responsibility. Reads quarterbacks' clues to where pass is headed. Rarely fails in zone coverage responsibilities.
Weaknesses: Short lower half with some tightness in his hips and small arms. Very average athlete and lacking quickness expected from such a productive linebacker. Reactive athleticism near the line of scrimmage is just average. Instincts have to be razor sharp because speed to the perimeter is slower than expected. Feet don’t work as quickly as his mind. At times, overestimates speed and will take a poor angle to the ball. More of an extra rusher than quality blitzer as a pass rusher. Maturity could be a issue. Can be mismatched and beaten for a big play when asked to cover man-to-man down the field.
Projected Round: 2
Possible landing spot: New York Jets
4. Tyler Matakevich, Temple
Bio: In his four years as a starter at Temple, Tyler Matakevich has been one of the most productive linebackers in the country. During that span, he registered over 100 tackles each season and win the Bronco Nagurski Award as a senior.
Strengths: Great teammate and leader. Incredible production over all four years as a starter. Finished his four years with 496 tackles. Has great eyes and processes what he sees quickly. Decisive with instinctive recognition of play flow and and shuffles accordingly. Keys the quarterback’s eyes and gets a head start into space on pass plays. Rarely fooled by play-action. Plays square to the line of scrimmage and keeps eyes focused on the ball against the run. Battles his limitations by attacking downhill and shooting gaps to disrupt in the backfield. Can shift from a downhill path to lateral movement seamlessly. Easy turn and move into space against the pass. Uses active hands to challenge and defend throws.
Weaknesses: Average play strength. Can be engulfed by linemen on the second level and might not have the frame to carry more muscle mass. Struggles to hold his spot in the grass against a good lead block. Gets in a hurry to flow downhill and runs himself into bad angles on the ball when the play flows outside. Needs to do a more consistent job of breaking down in space before attempting to tackle. Fast running backs turn him into an arm tackler. Had 32 missed tackles over the last three seasons. Gets caught up in the pile near the line of scrimmage and can’t get free quickly. Play speed is average at best.
Projected Round: 2-3
Possible landing spot: Green Bay Packers
5. Joshua Perry, Ohio State
Bio: As a senior at Ohio State, Joshua Perry gained respect from Big Ten coaches for his play, leadership, and character. The previous year, he led the Buckeyes in tackles with 124.
Strengths: Respected leader on the field and in the locker room. Winner who is willing to do the dirty work. Big and physical and has the strength and grit to handle himself at point of attack. Productive tackler with good finishing moves. Wrap up tackler who throws his chest into the ball carrier. Allowed just one broken tackle over last two seasons. Has old-school tackler's mentality in the box. Well conditioned and continues to bring his lunch pail late into the game. Plays with good instincts anticipating screen passes and getting jumps on wide rushing plays.
Weaknesses: Will play through in a small window and has a limited area of impact as a playmaker. Gets too caught up in physical battles against blockers and loses sight of the ball. Plays too tall and allows blockers under his pads and into his frame. Needs to punch and shed quicker to get to the tackle. Stiff movement in space and struggles with changing direction. Below average sideline-to-sideline chaser. Doesn’t appear to have the man cover skills to stay on the field in sub packages.
Projected Round: 2-3
Possible landing spot: Arizona Cardinals